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Yue Wang '12: A labyrinth for on-campus job seekers

It is a typical Kafkaesque situation where one can never figure out where the chain of hierarchy ends and who is accountable for making a fateful verdict. The world is neither understandable nor escapable, indeed a boundless labyrinth.

As unreal and dreamlike as it sounds, that labyrinthine situation befalls many Brown students who look for on-campus job opportunities. The technical process of on-campus student employment is simple enough. You go to the student employment office Web site, fill out the online application for the listed positions for which you are qualified and interested in and wait for the replies from the employers. The fairness of the process is also important because on-campus employment constitutes a significant part of the financial aid package for many Brown students.

The online job application system is meant to serve the purpose of both simplicity and fairness, especially the latter. According to the Student Employment Office Web site, "In order to ensure students fair and equal access on jobs, all on-campus student employment opportunities must be posted via the Student Employment web site. All student job opportunities are posted for a minimum of two business days. The pre-selection of candidates is prohibited."

Is the promise of fairness in on-campus employment really fulfilled? Stories abound and vary, but most are filled with confusion. In numerous conversations I have had with on-campus job applicants, there were a couple of success stories in which the students were able to land a job after sending merely one or two applications, but most job-seekers recounted far more torturous experiences: A large proportion of applicants would be lucky if they could get one position after applying to more than a dozen administrative offices or departments, some of which simply never responded (which is surely the most frustrating part for the applicants and is in clear violation of school guidelines).

Different explanations circulate among the frustrated job-seeking students who are more or less equally confused by the system. Some believe that upperclassmen are preferred over underclassmen; some were convinced that merely applying online is far from enough to get a job and daily phone calls and office visits are necessary.

But apart from those conjectures, two anecdotes caught my attention. One student got a library job after his friend, a current library employee, introduced him to his supervisors. The other concerns a job advertised online that required the applicants to have taken specific courses. Yet, the position had already been promised to one student, and the subsequent online posting of the position only created empty hopes for those who may also be qualified and applied for the position in earnest. In effect, the latter's applications were solicited only to create the illusion and appearance of open and fair competition.

All those incidents suggest that something is going awry with the procedures governing the on-campus employment. The first and most obvious lesson we can draw is that hiring offices and departments should inform rejected applicants in a timely manner. The second and graver problem we need to address in order to restore equality and fairness to the on-campus employment system is the potential for violation of the online application rule, which undermines transparency and formality in on-campus hiring.

As long as hiring officers voluntarily choose to precede and supplant the online recruiting process, the fairness that the current system could impose on the employers will be limited at best. Otherwise, even with this online system which is purported to promote greater fairness and transparency for students in need of on-campus jobs, at the end of day it will only cause job applicants more difficulty and frustration while consuming more of their time, energy and hope.

Of course, the idea that on-campus job opportunities should be advertised online was meant to alleviate students' fear of an opaque and unfair hiring process, which matters to many financially. But we see now that just as people may push for bureaucratic transparency, the bureaucracy pushes back and shrewdly co-opts the idea for its own convenience. Here what spurred the birth of an online employment system ran into a deeper bureaucratic inertia that accepts the formality of online recruitment without subscribing to its underlying principles. In this sense, further improvement should be made to on-campus hiring practices to make sure that we conform not just to the formality of an online system but to its spirit of equal opportunities.

Yue Wang '12 is a political science and German studies concentrator from Shanghai. She can be contacted at yue_wang at brown.edu.


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